The 1996 Pennsylvania law that recognizes marriage between one man and one woman was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge May 20, clearing the way for same-sex marriage in the commonwealth.

Reaction to the ruling in the Catholic community was swift and strong.

Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a statement calling the decision by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III to strike down Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act “a mistake with long-term, negative consequences.”


Gov. Tom Corbett has 30 days to file an appeal, which the archbishop hoped would happen.

Archbishop Chaput said laws like Pennsylvania’s that defend traditional marriage “were enacted for sound reasons — namely to defend the rights of children and contribute to the well-being of the larger community.”

“Marriage is more than a private arrangement between two people,” he said. “It’s a public commitment of love and fidelity, and it’s ordered not just to companionship but to creating and rearing new life. This is why every child deserves a mother and a father in a loving marriage, and the child is the fruit of that love.

“All men and women are formed in the image of God and deserve our respect. But attempts to redefine the nature of marriage, no matter how well intentioned, damage a cornerstone of our human interaction and ultimately work against human dignity itself.”

The archbishop supported a statement made the same day by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic bishops of the state who lead more than 3 million Catholics.

The statement said the judge’s ruling “speaks to the confusion and misunderstanding among many today about the fundamental building block of society: the family. Every child has a basic right to a mother and a father united in marriage as a family. Today’s decision does not change that.”

The PCC reiterated consistent Catholic teaching that all people are made in the image of God and that everyone has inherent dignity, adding that no one should face discrimination.

“But human experience, considerable social data, as well as our religious convictions, lead us to see clearly that children thrive best in a stable family grounded on the marital union of one man and one woman,” the PCC said.

“Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage is not a statement about the worth of human beings who experience same-sex attraction, but a statement about the nature of marriage itself.”

The conference said it “does not support this judge’s redefinition of this fundamental human institution.”

Judge Jones in his 41-page opinion said his was the 12th federal district court to overturn gay marriage bans in states or recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Those states include Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Another 18 states also allow same-sex marriage or recognize it.

Jones said Pennsylvania’s laws that prohibit same-sex marriage and do not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples in other states “violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and are therefore unconstitutional.”